Family Dinner
By: Alexa Mardon
Nestled in a cluster of trees on the edge of Kits beach and the cusp of Vanier park, the Hadden Park Field House at 1015 Maple Street is the current resident space of Vancouver artist collective Ten Fifteen Maple: Justine A. Chambers, Josh Hite, Rebecca Bayer, Billy Marchenski, and Kristen Roos. The former caretaker residence is a part of the Vancouver Parks Board’s Field House Residency program, launched in 2012, which provides artists/collectives with free studio space in exchange for community arts-based engagement. The Field House acts as the site for the collective’s often participatory research. As the group’s website explains, “Through sound, collective recordings, temporary installations, performances, screenings, workshops, conversations and dinners, the projects will be dedicated to the very means of engagement that happens between people and their particular surroundings” (

In early June, I’m invited to attend a participatory work by dance artist and Ten Fifteen Maple collective member Justine A. Chambers entitled “Family Dinner.” Family Dinner is described as “an immersive and intimate dining performance [where] guests join a very particular family dinner exploring the choreography of dining, etiquette and behavioural codes. Each dinner is at once a rehearsal, performance, embodied recording and a conversation with dinner guests” ( Though the dinner I attended functioned a dress rehearsal for the work proper, the performances are typically publicly accessible events, with the group accepting bookings for guests via the collective’s website.

On the Tuesday evening I arrived for dinner, the early summer sun had begun to sling low behind dwindling family barbeques. Distant tankers flashed in the light. Once through the chain-link gate and at the door I’m greeted with hugs and warm smiles by what Chambers affectionately calls the “Task Force,” a rotating group of some of Vancouver’s most sought-after dancers and performers; it’s a close group, including many people I’ve learned from, trained with, and admired in the city’s small dance community. It might have been relaxing, a nice moment to catch up with those who’d been out of town or busy, a rare opportunity for so many working artists to be in the same room. But I’d been invited to a performance, and I was suspicious. I immediately started sweating in my ill-chosen long sleeve shirt. In the cramped caretaker’s kitchen, where pasta noodles were sending up steam off the stove and the twelve bodies of guests and performers alike were packed tightly, I gratefully threw back the glass of cold white wine that was placed in my hand as my jacket and bag were whisked away from me.

Justine A. Chambers’ work typically deals with the movement language of gesture, and her attention to detail — the slightest angle of the chin, the initiation of a movement from this finger rather than that — is a signature of her practice. Having both danced in Chambers’ work as a student and seen her work performed by herself and by other interpreters, I am aware of her ability to apply the observation of her own and others’ habitual tendencies and to multiply them; to render them into a tight score and show them back to us. This looped replication, familiar yet grotesque, is often unsettling. It was this keenness of observation that I had in mind as I entered into the machinery of the choreography, the “embodied recording.”  My awareness was heightened accordingly throughout the evening.

We were ushered into the “dining room” by the performers: a large table set tastefully for twelve, small windows overlooking the seawall path, the spectacular sunset threatening.  Against the wall opposite the window, a smaller table acted as a buffet, our slow-baked tomatoes, pasta, and salad ready to be dished out by the few performers hovering over it. We were subtly arranged so that — as much as possible — each of the six guests sat between two performers. Justine, standing at the head of the table, asked one of the guests, on the side of the table opposite the buffet, to pass her the empty plate to her right. This seemed to be the formal signifier that the performance had begun. The plate made its way towards the serving table, was heaped with food, and was then passed clockwise between hands, all the way around the table, in an absurd display of hospitable excess, past its original position, to the guest on the left of first person who originally picked up the plate. The guests laughed, a little knowingly and nervously, and Justine smiled gracefully at us all. When, finally, the last plate had moved through twelve pairs of hands and is set down, performer Tiffany Tregarthen asked,
“Does anyone want to say grace?”
In the silence that followed, we all observed each other.
“Well, bon appetit!”

Marten Spangberg writes about a type of performance that calls for “a shift towards performance as an activity”, the poesis of the already-there. In an essay titled
Immaterial Performance,” Spangberg asks not what, but when, is the performance? Chambers’ Family Dinner is at once a revelation and an interrogation of the already-there. Rather than a production “without the possibility of essence,” Family Dinner is an experimentation wherein the body acts as imperfect recording device, the playback a magnification, rather than an unfolding of. At Family Dinner, a conversation with a dinner guest is the essence of the everyday, made bizarre by process of distillation.The performance is in fact derived from essence; of habit, of social cues, and the immense histories carried with each of us in our bodies.

Once we were settled; eating and chatting, it became apparent that the performers were adhering to a movement score, or a set of instructions previously “choreographed,” though those instructions took some time to make themselves explicit. The lighting in the room began to shift as well; a wall-mounted reading lamp would flick on or off, while the timbre of the overhead  lights would softly change. Conversations darted and buzzed between neighbours and the guests joked and remarked on these changes, making our awareness of the performance known.

Meanwhile, Chambers held court; she was a charming host with perfect comedic timing. Despite this, the room was charged with an energy similar to the uncomfortable and mysterious experience of having a conversation with somebody who keeps checking their watch. I would ask a question, contribute an anecdote, or listen to a story, but my involvement was checked, as if real time were suspended; each person, including the guests, was existing in a mental capacity outside of the room and the conversation itself. In the absence of a watch, the performers checked each other, their plates, Chambers, and, unsettlingly, us. It was hard not to notice the intricate web of signals whizzing across the table. The movement score surfaced in bursts; moments of unison would appear in an elbow on the table, or the perfectly timed thrust of three performers’ torsos backwards into their chairs as they laughed maniacally at another guest’s comment. Trying to carry on a conversation while watching them – and watching them watch each other – was both exhausting and exhilarating. It was akin to being let in on a juicy secret I couldn’t yet grasp the consequence of.

When performer Josh Martin, clearly visible at the head of the table opposite Chambers, began making a series of gestures, crossing his hands over his chest and pointing his fingers out like guns, making fists and then opening them, it was almost a relief. Dance! Movement! Here was something I could latch onto. For a moment, I could relax into watching. Aryo Khakpour and David Raymond joined him, and the three men casually continued on the conversations they’d already begun while completing their movement task.

Spangberg’s idea of immaterial performance describes a shift towards performance as an activity, an occasion in which performer and audience can merge into one entity, not through conventions of participation but through “charged interactions.” While the guests at this dinner were clearly not privy to the exact choreographic tasks at hand, we sat at the same table, interacting with the performers, cumulatively composing the performance “as activity, shared through multiplicities of relations, rather than performance as representation” (Spangberg 2).

After a time it became clear that the performers were lagging in finishing their meals. A perpetually fast eater, I drank the rest of my wine, and then drank my refill. When Tiffany Tregarthen and Alison Denham, both lithe, graceful and articulate women, leaned steeply over their plates in unison and began shoveling the remainder of the food into their mouths, my first instinct was to look away. Instead I watched closely as they both packed away half a plate of food in under ten seconds, smiling and commenting enthusiastically on their meals. Finally, the performers cleared our plates, and the guests were left alone for a moment. We all agreed we were bewildered, enthralled, and a little bit exhausted. Chambers and the performers re-entered with our dessert.

“Now I’m going to tell you what happened,” said Chambers.

Over the last year, and through a series of research and rehearsal periods both including and excluding “guests,” Chambers and the rest of the Task Force created an overarching movement score, which included such gestures as the hand pointing. Outside of the scored, set movement, dictated by both the lighting cues and a timer system on Chambers’ pocketed phone, to which she gave the group set cues, there was another, more complex and embodied score. From each of the now 100 or so guests that have dined with the Task Force, one gesture, habit, or tic is pulled. Together, the performers practice and perfect this guest’s gesture, adding it to the growing library of possible movements. Not only are those movements memorized and performed, they are the only movements allowed. There is a gesture for drinking your wine, as there is one for leaning on the table, as there is one for turning to the person to your right, as there is for wiping your mouth with your napkin. Each of these everyday and utilitarian movements is done as somebody else who has sat around that table. As Chambers explained, the performers are so deeply locked in the bodies of others, this cumulative body, that they are no longer free to perform any of what they might consider their own gestures or movements. After we would leave that evening, the performers would choose a gesture from each of the six of us, and add it to the blueprint for their dinner the following evening.

This relentless perpetuality recalls Delueze and Guattarri’s notion that the network of signs is infinitely circular — that  “The statement survives its object, the name survives its owner. Whether it passes into other signs or is kept in reserve for a time, the sign survives both its state of things and its signified; it leaps like an animal or a dead person to regain its place in the chain and invest a new state, a new signified, from which it will in turn extricate itself” (1000 Plateaus, 134). In the structure Chambers has built for an “embodied recording,” the personal is de-personalized, the materials for construction of identity are made open-source, and the singular is made communal. In this sense, Family Dinner is truly participatory at a level that performance working under this banner often fails to reach. The body of performer and guest surge forward into the work’s next iteration, yet the relationship between performer and participant is circular. The cumulative physical blueprint is the performers’ only entryway into interaction; the work exists at the precipice between what has been and what is. This immense potential for slippage both completes and ruptures the work’s self-imposed task of recording, opening it up to the possibility of entry, of charged interaction between performer and participant, between then and now.

While the identity of each participant becomes subsumed, mysterious and anonymous, it’s important to Chambers that the architecture of the evening not remain a mystery. As we sat, taking our time with dessert and chatting, guests and performers alike asked questions and batted around ideas about what we’d all just now been a part of.

At the time I attended the dinner, Chambers had recently gotten word that, along with this season’s Vancouver-based Dancing on the Edge Festival,  Family Dinner had been accepted for programming in both Ottawa’s Canada Dance Fest and Montreal’s OfFTA for the 2015 season. The importance of this work being considered “dance” is far-reaching. Chambers recalled an anecdote in which a previous dinner guest had been disappointed in the “lack of dance.” This particular guests’ codified expectations of a dance performance were not met at Family Dinner, and this rift allowed for an important interrogation of the medium’s definition. If you were to ask Justine A. Chambers where the dance is, she would invite you, graciously, to look around.

Choreography/Direction: Justine A. Chambers in collaboration with the performers
Performers (on the night the writer attended): Justine Chambers, Josh Martin, David Raymond, Tiffany Tregarthen, Aryo Khakpour, Alison Denham.
Lighting: James Proudfoot

8 DAYS est une rencontre intensive ouverte à tous les chorégraphes canadiens. Le rassemblement propose la curiosité, le questionnement et la réflexion pour approfondir les pratiques chorégraphiques.

Le projet itératif 8 DAYS cible le besoin d’un perfectionnement chorégraphique d’égal à égal au Canada et soutient que la pertinence de la forme d’art en dépend. Mis sur pied en 2012 par Ame Henderson et Tedd Robinson, 8 DAYS IV est issu du désir des participants à poursuivre l’échange. Les codes d’une démarche artistique agissent intimement sur l’œuvre. Théorie et pratique, articulation et création, action et réflexion, et les systèmes desquels l’on dépend ou non s’entrecroisent autour du développement créatif. 8 DAYS est une occasion de contextualiser son travail, de partager les approches et les défis pour se provoquer, se revigorer et s’inspirer entre créateurs. L’événement se soustrait des impératifs de production. La rencontre crée un espace pour se pencher sur sa pratique et favoriser de nouvelles possibilités artistiques par l’expérimentation et le dialogue rigoureux.

À la suite d’un appel à participants, SIX chorégraphes canadiens œuvrant ici ou à l’étranger seront invités à se joindre aux 20 participants des trois éditions précédentes. Une cohorte de 26 artistes se réuniront pour une aventure cocréée, à l’écoute de son environnement, mise en œuvre par ceux présents et guidée par leurs expériences imbriquées et divergentes. Les artistes sont appelés à faire preuve d’ouverture quant à la forme et à la nature de l’événement, de volonté de partage et d’un esprit critique dans les échanges. Parce qu’il y a plus de participants d’année en année, nous demandons que tous soient disponibles à de nouvelles façons de se rencontrer. Le comité de sélection est composé de trois anciens participants et d’un invité.

Chaque chorégraphe est responsable d’une partie de la rencontre. Les journées sont principalement structurées autour des repas communs (préparation, consommation et ménage). Manifestation du travail collectif, les repas éclairent comment l’on peut fonctionner et se nourrir au sein d’un groupe. Les journées peuvent aussi compter le partage de recherche et l’échange de méthodes, la lecture, la discussion libre, ainsi que des temps de repos et de réflexion personnelle.

Il est impératif que 8 DAYS se mette en rapport avec la communauté élargie. À cette fin, on demande à chaque participant de répondre à l’idée de la documentation et à la nécessité de partager leur expérience. Jusqu’à maintenant, 8 DAYS a produit deux livrets financés par les contributions personnelles des participants. Chaque artiste propose et crée une réponse particulière à 8 DAYS pendant ou après sa conclusion. La documentation cosignée sera ensuite diffusée sur une plateforme choisie par les artistes afin de partager le processus et ses résultantes.
Logistique 8 DAYS IV se tiendra à Artscape Gibraltar Point à Toronto Island. L’ancienne école offre 35 000 pieds carrés d’espace à usage multiple. Les artistes profitent d’hébergement semi-privé, de grands studios clairs, d’une cuisine partagée, d’une salle de détente, d’un réseau wi-fi gratuit et d’un service de location de vélo. Le terrain idyllique au bord de l’eau donne l’impression d’une escapade dans un chalet, mais est à quinze minutes en traversier du centre- ville de Toronto.

Les artistes arriveront le dimanche 14 juin et partiront le mardi 23 juin 2015. Public Recordings dépose une demande de subvention pour payer le déplacement, l’hébergement et les repas. Les résultats de la demande devraient être connus à la fin mars 2014. Nous encourageons les participants à faire d’autres demandes de financement pour soutenir leur participation.

DATE LIMITE : 1 DÉCEMBRE 2014 Veuillez envoyer une lettre d’intérêt et une biographie récente ainsi que des extraits de votre travail pour contextualiser votre dossier. Il y a un nouveau comité de sélection chaque année et ainsi, les artistes ayant posé leur candidature pour une édition antérieure sont encouragés à le faire de nouveau. Dans la lettre, détaillez vos préoccupations chorégraphiques actuelles et précisez en quoi l’événement pourrait enrichir votre pratique. Que souhaitez-vous partager avec le groupe ? Quelle sorte d’activité aimeriez-vous diriger ? Soyez concis et ciblez vos documents d’appui dans l’optique précise de ce projet.

Nous acceptons les demandes en anglais et en français. Veuillez noter que la langue de travail sera surtout l’anglais. Envoyez votre dossier par voie électronique. Les documents d’appuis doivent être en pièces jointes ou disponibles en ligne. Le cas échéant, assurez-vous d’inclure les liens et les accès nécessaires pour les visionner. Veuillez noter que nous ne traiterons pas les demandes envoyées par la poste.
Pour plus d’information ou pour soumettre un dossier : eightdays (at) publicrecordings (dot) org  

Historique du projet 8 DAYS s’est déroulé à la B.A.R.N. à Lac Leslie dans la région du Pontiac au Québec du 16 au 24 juin 2012. 10 Gates Dancing Inc. et Public Recordings étaient hôtes et partenaires de la rencontre.
Comité de sélection : Sara Coffin, Ame Henderson, Tedd Robinson, Stephen Thompson
Participants : Justine A. Chambers, Claudia Fancello, Marie Claire Forté, Ame Henderson, Benjamin Kamino, Davida Monk, Tedd Robinson, Stephen Thompson, Michael Trent

8 DAYS II s’est déroulé à Ten Fifteen Maple et au Dance Centre à Vancouver du 10 au 18 août 2013. Justine A. Chambers et Public Recordings étaient hôtes de la rencontre, et les partenaires étaient le Conseil des Arts du Canada, Public Recordings, Ten Fifteen Maple et le Dance Centre.
Comité de sélection : Martin Bélanger, Justine A. Chambers, Benjamin Kamino, Davida Monk
Participants : Naomi Brand, Justine A. Chambers, Karine Denault, Claudia Fancello, Marie Claire Forté, Caroline Gravel, Ame Henderson, Christopher House, Davida Monk, Andrew Tay, Stephen Thompson, Michael Trent, Laurie Young

8 DAYS III s’est déroulé à Artscape Gibraltar Point du 16 au 24 juin 2014. Public Recordings était hôte de la rencontre, et les partenaires étaient le Conseil des arts du Canada, Artscape Gibraltar Point, Toronto Dance Theatre et 10 Gates Dancing Inc. Comité de sélection : Naomi Brand, Caroline Gravel, Robin Poitras, Laurie Young Participants : Martin Bélanger, Naomi Brand, Justine A. Chambers, Karine Denault, Claudia Fancello, Marie Claire Forté, Caroline Gravel, Ame Henderson, Christopher House, Benjamin Kamino, Jennifer Mascall, Freya Olafson, Bee Pallomina, Tedd Robinson, Andrew Tay, Stephen Thompson, Michael Trent, Peter Trosztmer, Katie Ward, Laurie Young

8 DAYS is an intensive encounter open to Canadian contemporary choreographers. The gathering values curiosity, questioning and reflection on how we work in order to deepen choreographic practices.

The ongoing 8 DAYS project addresses a need for peer-to-peer choreographic development in Canada, insisting that this mode is crucial to the continued relevance of the art form. Originally instigated in 2012 by Ame Henderson and Tedd Robinson, 8 DAYS IV stems from the desire to continue this artistic exchange. How dance artists work is intimately related to what they create. Theory and practice, talking and making, doing and reflecting, and the systems we do and don’t rely on are understood as interwoven threads of creative development. 8 DAYS is an opportunity to share artistic practices and concerns and to challenge, invigorate and inspire each other. This is an occasion to contextualize oneself within a larger frame. 8 DAYS escapes the pressures of production-driven work. It creates space to reflect on one’s current practice and through rigorous dialogue and experimentation encourages new artistic possibilities.

SIX Canadian choreographers working in Canada or abroad will be invited to join 20 past participants of the three previous 8 DAYS encounters. A cohort of 26 artists will embark on a co-authored adventure influenced by its surroundings, created by those present, and guided by their overlapping and divergent experience. Participants are asked to arrive with an openness about what this encounter can be, a willingness to expose and share, and a criticality around intellectual and artistic exchange. As the number of participants grows every year, we ask that everyone be open to new ways of being together in this ever-evolving constellation. The selection committee is comprised of three past participants and a guest.

Each participant is responsible for planning a portion of the time spent together. Days are primarily structured around preparing, cooking and facilitating group meals, which becomes a fundamental way of thinking about shared work. Subsistence informs how we can function within a group. The days also include sharing research and exploring methods, reading, open discussion, as well as time for leisure and personal reflection.

It is imperative that 8 DAYS engages with the community at large. To this end, each participant will be asked to respond to the concept of documentation in order to share the experience. So far 8 DAYS has self-produced two books financed by the personal contributions of the participants. Each artist proposes and creates responses specific to 8 DAYS during or immediately following the gathering. This co-authored documentation is then distributed via a framework determined by the contributors in order to share the process and its outcomes.

Logistical Details 8 DAYS will be held at Artscape Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island. Housed in a former school, Artscape Gibraltar Point, offers 35,000 square feet of multi-use space. Artists will enjoy semi-private accommodations, bright and spacious studios, a shared kitchen and lounge, free wi-fi, and bike rentals. This idyllic beachfront property has the feeling of a remote cottage getaway but is a short fifteen-minute ferry ride from downtown Toronto.  The participating artists will arrive on Sunday, June 14th, and depart Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015. Public Recordings has applied for funding to cover travel costs and meals. Funding results should be known by the end of March 2015. Applicants are encouraged to seek further funding to support their participation.

Please submit a letter of interest and a recent biography in addition to any work samples that are relevant to contextualize your application. As the jury changes each year, previous applicants are encouraged to reapply. Detail your current choreographic concerns in relation to the milieu, address how this encounter might enrich your practice and position yourself in regard to the documentation process. Propose an idea of what you would like to share with the group and what kind of activity you would like to facilitate. Please keep your responses brief and select any support material carefully with the aim of addressing this specific opportunity.

Applications can be submitted in English or French. Please note: the working language will be primarily English. All materials must be submitted electronically. Support materials must be included as an attachment or available online. Make sure to include all necessary links and access information. Please note, applications sent by mail cannot be processed.

For more information and to apply: eightdays (at) publicrecordings (dot) org 

Project History 8 DAYS was held at la B.A.R.N. on Lac Leslie in the Pontiac Region of Quebec, from June 16 – 24, 2012. It was hosted and supported by 10 Gates Dancing Inc. and Public Recordings. Selection committee: Sara Coffin, Ame Henderson, Tedd Robinson, Stephen Thompson  Participants: Justine A. Chambers, Claudia Fancello, Marie Claire Forté, Ame Henderson, Benjamin Kamino, Davida Monk, Tedd Robinson, Stephen Thompson, Michael Trent

8 DAYS II was held at ten fifteen maple and The Dance Centre from August 10-18, 2013. It was hosted by Justine A. Chambers and Public Recordings, and received support from the Canada Council for the Arts, Public Recordings, The Dance Centre and ten fifteen maple. Selection committee: Martin Bélanger, Justine A. Chambers, Benjamin Kamino, Davida Monk Participants: Naomi Brand, Justine A. Chambers, Karine Denault, Claudia Fancello, Marie Claire Forté, Caroline Gravel, Ame Henderson, Christopher House, Davida Monk, Andrew Tay, Stephen Thompson, Michael Trent, Laurie Young

8 DAYS III was held at Artscape Gibraltar Point from June 16-24, 2014. It was hosted by Public Recordings, and received support from the Canada Council for the Arts, Artscape Gibraltar Point, Toronto Dance Theatre and 10 Gates Dancing Inc. Selection committee: Naomi Brand, Caroline Gravel, Robin Poitras, Laurie Young Participants: Martin Bélanger, Naomi Brand, Justine A. Chambers, Karine Denault, Claudia Fancello, Marie Claire Forté, Caroline Gravel, Ame Henderson, Christopher House, Benjamin Kamino, Jennifer Mascall, Freya Olafson, Bee Pallomina, Tedd Robinson, Andrew Tay, Stephen Thompson, Michael Trent, Peter Trosztmer, Katie Ward, Laurie Young

Family Dinner would like to acknowledge the support of:

The Canada Council for the Arts

British Columbia Arts Council

The Field House Residency Program

The Scotia Bank Dance Centre

Jeanne Holmes – curator  Dance in Vancouver

Mutable Subject

Olla Urban Flower Project

Without you, dinner wouldn’t have made it to the table.

Photo by Yvonne Chew

Photo by Yvonne Chew


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